Lectionary 12 A

Repentance, baptism, communion, and God's foreknowledge, indifferent matters. What a breadth of topics! The unpacking of some of these citations are more complete than has been by past practice as the context of the argument, both historically and in the documents, makes some difference this week.

Romans 6:1b-11

Verses 2, 4, and 11 are cited by editorial insertion in the same section of Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.46) as Melanchthon is in an extended argument defending the two-part understanding of repentance as contrition and absolution. In this section, Melanchthon tracks Paul's discussion of "conversion or renewal" to show that Paul breaks this into two parts: "putting to death and making alive." Melanchthon's primary text is Colossians 2:11-12, but Paul uses the same language in Romans 6. The emphasis here is that contrition is actual fear, real existential crisis, and absolution is the consolation of faith in God's forgiveness.

If you've read the Romans passage, hopefully your Small Catechism work came back to you. If you haven't read the passage yet, know that verse 4 is quoted in The Small Catechism, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Four (SC 4.14) as the answer to, "Where is it written?," when asking about the significance of baptism.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
so we too might walk in newness of life.
--Romans 6:4

Verse 9 is cited by editorial insertion in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 10: The Holy Supper (AP 10.4) to show that Luther and Melanchthon had no issue with the idea of the real presence of Jesus in communion because he now exists outside the realm of death (among other reasons).

Matthew 10:24-39

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
--Matthew 10:29

Verse 29 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.4) along with a couple of other passages to show that God has foreknowledge of all things. This is part of the introductory unpacking of predestination as the Lutheran reformers saw it after Luther's death. They were very careful to separate God's foreknowledge from God's preordaining people for salvation. They wanted to avoid the dual-predestination trap that Calvinism was caught in at the time. So the Lutheran reformers note that God's foreknowledge of all things is not the same thing as "whatever happens is God's will." The later of those two is a kind of religious fatalism that can be found in most religions but is against Christianity's understanding of who God is given what the New Testament says about God and Jesus.

God does not create evil. Evil comes from the wills that strive against God's will. God's will is that all people be saved and God works all things toward that end against those wills that work to condemn us. (Those wills, by the way, as Luther notes in The Small Catechism, are "the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh" (SC 3.9).) Jesus' suffering and death show us that God will do anything to save everyone except force people to believe. On the other side, our actions are an indication of God at work in our lives, since good works are impossible without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Of course, good works alone are not a sign of being saved, since God is the only judge of who is saved and we don't see that judgment until Jesus returns.

Article 11 of the Solid Declaration comes up quite a bit in the citations from the Revised Common Lectionary. I would strongly encourage you to spend time reading it. It's very carefully thought out and the best explanation I've read of the issues with Christian fatalism. For those who don't have ready access to the Formula, here is a link to the text and here is an audio version of Article 11.  Know that these are not the translation that I use.

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others,
I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven...
--Matthew 10:32

Verse 32 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 10: Ecclesiastical Practices (SD 10.17) in what feels like a once of quote. The passage call for special attention given to this verse but doesn't give it. The argument in this area is about adiaphora, or indifferent matters, which are indifferent not because they don't matter but because they are neither commanded nor forbidden in God's Word. There was some controversy about these after Luther died, particularly the question of when we should accept adiaphora for the sake of the unity of the Church. I think that verse 32 is the central point of when it's okay to accept adiaphora and when we should stand fast against them. As Article 10 concludes (SD 10.31):

"For this reason the churches are not to condemn one another because of differences in ceremonies when in Christian freedom one has fewer or more than the other, as long as these churches are otherwise united in teaching and in all the articles of the faith as well as in the proper use of the holy sacraments. As it is said, 'Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei' (dissimilarity in fasting shall not destroy the unity of faith)."

So when it comes to indifferent matters, the questions are: does this compromise the teaching of the gospel, and does this confound the use of the sacraments. If the answer to both of those is no, the matter is one of Christian freedom and should not divide the Church.

TheoThru

It comes right down to the question of who does the saving.

If repentance earns us access to God's grace, then it's our work. If communion is only reminding ourselves of Jesus' sacrifice, then it's our work. If God already knows who's going to be in heaven and who's going to be in hell, then there's no point in any work. If we can decide what rites and rituals matter, regardless of what God's Word says, then it's our work.

If repentance is sorrow for how we have grieved God and neighbor, then the power to live differently is a gift from God (although we still have to live the new life God gives us). If communion is really Jesus, then God is again giving us what we need to live the new life of faith--forgiveness of sins. If God wants all people to be saved, then God calls those of us who know the good news to share it for the sake of those who don't know about God's love. If what comes first is proclamation of the gospel, baptism, and communion, then our center is God's work of saving all of creation.

  • How do we point to God's work of salvation?
  • How do we encourage others to respond to God's work?
  • How do we keep from confusing the two?